History teaches us to look back and consider what might have been done better. In the nineteenth century, with the Industrial Revolution, international commerce was flourishing, the British Empire was spanning the globe, and territories were ruled by emperors and kings who could all relate to each other. But it all fell apart with the First World War. At its end, the victors created a flawed peace treaty in Versailles, one of the most important and controversial conditions of which required ‘Germany to accept the responsibility for causing all loss and damage’ during the war. The punitive figure, roughly the equivalent of US $442 billion, was excessive and counter-productive, and Germany’s inability to pay the fine led to a decision of an indefinite postponement of reparations due at the Lausanne Conference of 1932.
The decision came too late. The vanquished state of Germany came under the spell of the radical movement of the Nazi party. Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and immediately proceeded to eliminate all political opposition and to consolidate Germany’s heads-of-power titles to one; Hitler became sole dictator and supreme leader of Germany, legitimized by national referendum in 1934.
On the other hand, facilitated by Germany, the Russian Communist Revolution took place in 1917, removing Russia from the war and transforming the Russian state into the world’s first Communist dictatorship, displacing its traditional monarchical system. Following Vladimir Lenin in the mid 1920s, Joseph Stalin became the most brutal dictator in human history.
Nevertheless, after Hitler unleashed his power, starting the Second World War in 1939 against Poland, followed by the invasion of France, and an attempt to defeat England in the Battle of Britain, his invasion of Russia was the beginning of his end. Russia prevailed, with massive military aid from the Allied countries, only to later face its former allies in a Cold War and with the threat of nuclear arms.
The war-weary European nations had but one chance; not to repeat the blunder of Versailles, but to rebuild all of Europe, including Germany and its allies. It was the great General, who later became U.S. Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, who had the wisdom and compassion to commit the United States of America to his plan as outlined in a speech he delivered at Harvard University in June 1947. Marshall said, “It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.” As Secretary of State, Marshall devoted the United States to the development of a recovery plan for all of Europe, including its own former enemies, the Marshall Plan, for which he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The German people, appreciating the chance, dug themselves out of the rubble and diligently made the best use they could of the Marshall plan to bring about a Wirtschafts Wunder, an economic miracle.
Now, fast forward to after we have weathered the Cold War with Russia, when the threat of annihilation by their atomic bomb has been peacefully resolved. The Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in a series of summit talks with President Ronald Reagan between 1985 and 1988, improved relations with the U.S. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation treaty was signed in 1987, and by 1989,
Gorbachev had sanctioned the end of the Communist monopoly on political power in Eastern Europe. For his contributions to the reduction of East-West political tension, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
In the meantime, the Middle East became embroiled in a war, instigated by the dictator of Iraq with the invasion of Kuwait. In March 2003, U.S. forces invaded Iraq, vowing to destroy their weapons of mass destruction and end the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein. Hussein was captured, tried and hanged, and democratic elections followed. In the years since, there have been over 4,700 deaths of U.S. and allied troops, and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops left Iraq in its traditional condition of tribal dispute. Instead of the necessary pacification between the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, animosities flared into a chaotic aftermath. The formerly oppressed Shiites took revenge on the Sunnis, who in turn made the uprisings of the barbaric Islamic state and ISIS possible, to spread anarchy in Iraq and Syria with no end in sight.
The disturbing events in January 2015, brought about the realization that the threat of another world war by Islamic terrorists, with infiltration of suicide bombers, is impossible to defeat with conventional armies. It needs a new mindset, a new Enlightenment, with a universal peace mission, designed and instigated with foreign aid, to rebuild with economic aid, as well as the effort of moderate Islamic communities, to bridge the divides of various tribes.